IAF chief demands full probe into flooding of fighter jet hangars

IAF chief demands full probe into flooding of fighter jet hangars

Air force commander Norkin says incident in which eight F-16s were damaged is ‘unbecoming’ of the military branch

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Incoming Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin salutes during a ceremony at the Tel Nof Air Base on August 14, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
Incoming Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin salutes during a ceremony at the Tel Nof Air Base on August 14, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli Air Force commander Amikam Norkin on Tuesday called for a full investigation into the failure to move eight fighter jets to safety during a flood last week, causing costly damage to the aircraft.

“[Norkin] said the event was unbecoming of the [air] force and believed it was important to investigate, learn lessons and implement them in order to prevent similar events in the future,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Last week, as massive rainstorms battered the country, a stream near the Hatzor air base in southern Israel flooded its banks, sending large amounts of water — some 50 million liters (13 million gallons) — into the base in the span of half an hour, a senior IAF officer said earlier this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The officer acknowledged that the air force had made “a mistake” in not emptying the hangars.

An F-16 fighter jet sits in a flooded hangar on the Hatzor air force base in southern Israel in January 2020. (Social media)

Though the military was aware of the expected rainfall and had moved other aircraft to safety, a number of F-16 fighter jets at Hatzor were kept in underground hangars, which flooded, causing various degrees of damage to eight planes. Repair costs were estimated in the millions of shekels.

The IAF officer said that all eight would return to service within the next few days. The air base returned to full service earlier this week, according to the military.

The air force said the damage to the planes and the hangars did not affect its overall operational capabilities.

Norkin called for a full investigation of the failure to move the F-16s to safety ahead of the storm, tasking a lieutenant colonel — who can only be identified by his first Hebrew initial, Tav — with leading the probe, the military said.

“The air force commander stressed that there was great importance in performing a thorough investigation, including assessing the recent incident, the level of implementation of lessons from the past and the improvement of communication between the air force and civilian authorities,” the IDF said.

The military censor initially barred media outlets from reporting on the incident, drawing criticism that it was doing so not to prevent damage to national security but to cover up an embarrassing episode for the air force.

The flooding occurred as heavy rains lashed Israel on Thursday, causing widespread flooding in several cities. Authorities have faced criticism over inadequate drainage infrastructure do deal with the rains. At least seven people have been killed in floods so far this winter.

Channel 12 news reported that several mechanics needed to be rescued from the flooded hangars, with waters reaching more than one and a half meters (4.5 feet) in depth. A spokesperson would not immediate confirm that report, but said that no soldiers were injured in the flood.

Areas of Israel have experienced one of the wettest winters on record, with some cities repeatedly deluged in the downpours.

A military truck evacuates residents through a flooded road in the northern city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Last week’s rainfall caused extensive flooding in Nahariya, a coastal city of some 50,000 residents near the Lebanon border. Thirty-eight-year-old Moti Ben Shabbat was killed by floodwaters in the city on Wednesday as he tried to rescue a mother and child trapped in their car. Earlier this month, two people died in Tel Aviv after they were trapped in a flooded elevator.

Others have been killed when their cars were swept away in flash floods.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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